Abstracts for Max Weber Lectures 2011-2012


Richard Revesz, NYU Law School

"Three Stages in the Evolution of Cost-Benefit Analysis as a Tool to Evaluate Regulation"

20 June 2012 at 17.00, Villa La Fonte, Conference Room

Over the last thirty years a three-stage evolution has taken place in American politics with regard to the use of cost-benefit analysis as a tool for evaluating regulation.

During that time, the appeal of cost-benefit analysis has shifted from one side of the aisle to the other. In the first stage, in the early 1980s, the Republican Party adopted cost-benefit analysis as a way of constraining regulation.

Many progressive groups fought back by rejecting cost-benefit analysis altogether. Several years ago, in a second stage, some progressive groups finally started to speak the language of cost-benefit analysis and it looked like a consensus approach might emerge.

But the economic crisis of 2008 has led the way to a third stage in which conservatives, who began to realize that cost-benefit analysis could justify stringent regulation, reframed the debate to one about jobs.

The essay argues that, despite pleas to abandon the technique, cost-benefit analysis has proven robust, in part because it provides a common ground where all interests are given weight.

Seyla Benhabib, Yale University

"The Future of Democratic Sovereignty and Transnational Law: Democratic Iterations, Transjudicial Conversations and Epistemic Communities."

16 May 2012 at 17.00, Villa La Fonte, Conference Room


This lecture will examine the rise of legal cosmopolitanism in the period since the UDHR of 1948 as it gives rise to two very distinct sets of literature and preoccupations.

I contrast the mainly negative conclusions drawn by conventional political theory about the possibility of reconciling democratic sovereignty with a transnational legal order to the utopianism of contemporary legal scholarship that projects varieties of global constitutionalism with or without the state.

I argue that transnational human rights norms strengthen rather than weaken democratic sovereignty. Distinguishing between a ‘concept’ and a ‘conception’ of human rights, I claim that self-government in a free public sphere and free civil society is essential to the concretization of the necessarily abstract norms of human rights.

My thesis is that without the right to self-government, which is exercised through proper legal and political channels, we cannot justify the range of variation in the content of basic human rights as being legitimate. I name processes through which rights-norms are contextualized in polities ‘democratic iterations.’

The institutionalization of human rights norms through democratic iterations that permit their revision, rearticulation and contestation, both within judicial institutions and in the larger spheres of civil society, exhibits certain ‘epistemic virtues’ and shows, in Alan Buchanan’s words, ‘public practical reason’ at work.

In conclusion, in addition to Buchanan’s thesis, I consider Anne-Marie Slaughter’s concept of ‘transjudicial communication,’ and Judith Resnik’s model of ‘law by affiliation’.

These three models, like my model of ‘democratic iterations,’ develop modalities of thinking beyond the binarism of the cosmopolitan versus the civic republican; democratic versus the international and transnational; democratic sovereignty versus human rights law. 

Linda Colley, Princeton University

"Liberties and Empires: Writing Constitutions in the Atlantic World, 1776-1848"

21 April 2012, Villa La Fonte, Conference Room


The outbreak of revolution in the Thirteen Colonies in 1776, in France in 1789, and in Haiti in 1791, famously gave rise to the creation of substantially new and highly influential written constitutions.

Before 1786, no independent state possessed a single document which it termed a constitution. But in the wake of these and other revolutions, written constitutions proliferated. By 1812, there were 50 new constitutions in Europe alone. Over 60 more had been drafted by 1850, many of them in Latin America. 

Yet the degree to which the explosion of new constitutions after 1776 was a transnational and a trans-continental phenomenon can be obscured by exceptionalist and purely national narratives, and by teleology.

In this lecture, Linda Colley considers the evidence for a more complex and multi-lateral history of constitutions in the Atlantic world between 1776 and 1848, and discusses their profound connections with empire as well as with nationalism. 

Stephan Leibfried, University of Bremen

"Ships of State: Germany, Europe, and Beyond ... Images of Political Unity for Troubled Times"

21 March 2012 at 17.00, Villa La Fonte, Conference Room


Ever since the abstract notion of “the state” as an organizing principle for Western societies began to emerge in ancient Greece, it has been accompanied by concrete metaphors and icons that enable subjects and rulers alike to visualize its complex functions and powers.

The “ship of state” is one of the oldest, most persistent and widespread of these icons. Until the early 17th century, it represented the conjunction of worldly and spiritual powers, and later came to represent the purely secular forms of rule that emerged during and after the Reformation.

In this talk, we’ll consider the ship-of-state images that have helped foster unity and a national self-image during the formation and preservation of two successful (quasi) federal systems: Germany (1890-2010) and the European Union (1577-2012).

At the end we'll briefly mention the trajectories of other images, such as the Netherlands, France, the US, or the UK.

Nicola Lacey, Oxford University

Revisiting the Comparative Political Economy of Punishment

15 February 2012 at 17.00, Villa La Fonte, Conference Room


In this lecture, I will address recent attempts to understand the relevance of political forces and institutions in shaping the practice and the social meaning of punishment.  I will focus on one argument about the relevance of the political which has been especially influential during the last decade.  This is the ‘neoliberal penality thesis’: the argument that politics can usefully be characterised as broadly neoliberal, or as social democratic: and that the decline or attenuation of social democracy, and the concomitant rise of neoliberalism have been associated with an intensification of penality. I will sketch what I take to be the key arguments for that thesis, before presenting a critique of both its method and its substantive conclusions. 

Though exponents of the neoliberal penality thesis often present it as an ambitious, general theory, I shall argue that it fails the key test to be applied to any such account: viz, does it have the capacity to shed explanatory light on the relationship between punishment and society?  The shortcomings of the neoliberal penality thesis at an explanatory level derive, I shall argue, from a failure to explicate just which political, economic and social institutions constitute neoliberalism; how, systematically, they relate to one another; and precisely how they are implicated in producing neoliberal penality.  These problems may best be illuminated by asking not only what neoliberalism ‘is’ but also analytic, historical and comparative questions about how it has emerged and what sorts of institutional structures are needed to sustain the policies, practices and arrangements which have come to be associated with neoliberalism; when they emerged; and where they hold sway.  In conclusion, and in consequence, I shall make the case for a more differentiated and specifically institutional account of the defining features of political systems integrated within a broad comparative political economy of punishment.

Kathleen Thelen, MIT

"Varieties of Capitalism: Trajectories of Liberalization and the New Politics of Social Solidarity"

18 January 2012 at 17.00, Villa La Fonte, Conference Room


This paper proposes a new, more differentiated way of thinking about contemporary changes in the political economies of the rich democracies.

The framework it offers breaks with the "continuum models” on which much of the traditional literature has been based, in which countries are arrayed along a single dimension according to their degree of "corporatism” or, more recently, of "coordination.”

In so doing, it reveals combinations - continued high levels of equality with significant liberalization, and declining solidarity in the context of continued significant coordination - that existing theories rule out by definition.

 Based on a comparison of recent developments in industrial relations, labor market policy, and vocational education and training in Germany and Sweden, I argue that the more egalitarian varieties of capitalism survive best not when they stably reproduce the politics and patterns of the Golden Era but rather when they are reconfigured - in both form and function - on the basis of significantly new political support coalitions.

Avinash Dixit, Princeton University

"Governance, Development and Foreign Direct Investment"

14 December 2011 at 17.00, Villa La Fonte, Conference Room


Less-developed countries and transition economies wish to attract foreign direct investment, but are often handicapped by their weak governance structures - insecurity of property rights and contracts.

Potential investors and governments therefore attempt to devise alternative special arrangements and institutions that imperfectly substitute for good overall governance. The volume and form of investments adapts to the conditions and institutions of governance.

Moreover, firms that have experience of coping with poor governance in their home country enjoy some advantage when investing in other host countries with similarly weak governance.

This lecture will present an overview of these issues and literature, and will develop a simple theoretical model to improve our understanding of FDI in less-developed countries and transition economies. 

Pierre Rosanvallon, College de France

"Rethinking Equality in an Age of Inequalities"

16 November 2011 at 17.00, Villa La Fonte, Conference Room


We live in a time of counter-revolution. Since the 1980s, reversing a century-old trend towards fewer inequalities, the richest among us have kept accumulating revenues and possessions.

The economic and social roots of this situation are well-known. But the complete break-down of the very idea of equality has also played a major role, having gone hand in hand with the insidious undermining of the tax system and other redistributive measures. Inequalities that are seen as unacceptable are denounced; but denunciation does not prevent resignation and a feeling of helplessness. To get us out of today’s stalemate, there is nothing more urgent than a refoundation of the idea of equality.

This lecture wants to contribute to this refoundation in two ways: first, by retracing two centuries of debates and struggles around the idea of equality, and shedding new light on today’s situation; then by proposing to go beyond dominant theories of justice, from John Rawls’ to Amartya Sen’s, to outline a theory of equality as social relation. Pierre Rosanvallon will show that refounding a society built on principles of singularity, reciprocity, and community, is the necessary condition for a more active solidarity.

Chris Pissarides, London School of Economics

"Employment in Europe"

19 October 2011, 17.00, Villa La Fonte, Conference Room 


The lecture will examine the most up to date theories of employment and unemployment. It will show how work-leisure choices, and the choice between home or market work interact to determine how many people enter the market and how work is allocated across activities.

It will then review the impact of policy on employment, looking at the effect of taxes, social subsidies and other forms of regulation.

Following this theoretical discussion, the lecture will address questions specific to European countries, and make suggestions about improving job creation and reducing unemployment. It will also examine the sectors that are likely to create jobs in the future and discuss the role of the public sector in job creation. 


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